This turned out to be probably the hardest endurance event have ever done, but managed to complete the Ford RideLondon-Essex 100 Mile cycling event! Reasons for such difficulty were :
- Not enough training rides – I did a whole 3 practice rides in total before the event – the longest one being 65miles and that was about 6 weeks before. This was due to a lot going on the previous month(including driving to Switzerland and back) and not having enough spare days to train. So my bike training for a 100 mile century ride was 1 x 38 mile ride out to Redhill Aerodrome and back, 1 x 65 mile ride from Worcester Park to Milton Keynes, 1 x 38 miler around Box Hill and back via Epsom.
- Moved house 2 days before – yeah great timing 🙂
- Hardly slept the night before – so was quite tired for most of the ride – didn’t get to bed until around midnight due to sorting out new house stuff and then woke up at 4am as had forgotten to prepare some food for the day – usually sleep quite well the night before events like this, but this night, I was wired.
Anyways I got up at 5:20am – there were allegedly 3 trains from Wimbledon(or Raynes Park) station on a Sunday morning that would get me to the race start on time – one at 5:56am, 6:17am and 7:08am. Despite the race email saying my arrival time at Buckingham Palace should be 7:50am, I opted on the side of caution and went for the 5:56am train, but when I got to the station there were NO TRAINS! :O
Journey to the Start Line
Yes, I cycled the 3.5 miles from home to Wimbledon to station, getting there 10mins before 5:56am, only to be greeted with the news from the departures screen that there were no trains going to Waterloo(due to engineering works). My immediate reaction was that this meant I’d have to cycle the 9 miles to central London, which I really wanted to avoid if possible as I was already quite tired and really didn’t fancy any extra miles before starting the ride. So, I headed off down Alexadra Road and saw a big Rail Replacement bus at the bus stop. Deperately wanting to avoid biking all the way to London, I took a punt and asked the driver if I could put my bike on the bus and amazingly he agreed(Big Thanks to this Bus Driver!) – some other passenger then said, “You’ve got a friend already on the bus”. It turned out fellow rider “Kat” had already parked her bike on the bus too 🙂 I chatted to her as we journeyed up to London via Vauxhall, getting off at Waterloo, cycling across Westminster Bridge(despite the guide saying this would be closed) and then making our way across to Victoria to the start queue. Kat had an earlier start time than me and I could tell she was a faster cyclist, so she headed off into the main queue shortly after we got to the start gates.
A Worryingly The Late Start Time
Just a quick note about starting times – to add to everything else I was also quite annoyed at being given 9:05am as a start time! the main reason for this is because I predicted I’d take at least 8.5hours to finish the 100miles and had read about stage “cut-off” times! Cut-off times essentially mean if you don’t get to an appropriate stage of the race within the specified time, in this event you would either be sent on to the shorter 60mile route or not allowed to finish. The times seemed quite tight given a 9:05am start time, which made me fret somewhat.
My start details were:
Start colour: YELLOW
Wave letter: G
Arrival time: 07:50:00
Load time start: 08:20:00
Load time end: 08:40:00
Start time: 09:05:00
Cut-Off Times Location / Distance / Time before you’re not allowed to finish
1 Woodford Green – Mile 18 11:00am
2 Four Wantz Roundabout, Chipping Ongar – Mile 32 12:20pm
3 Felsted School – Mile 53 14:00
4 Writtle – Mile 63 15:00
Considering all the above, I had a quick snack and then decided to join the starting queue anyway – yes I was early and the brochure hollered you’re not meant to start earlier, but as mentioned I was quite concerned about the stage cut-off times. I then saw another rider from the “G” Wave, so thought it must be alright to do so. Ironically the queue was huge and we had to wait at least an hour to get anywhere near the start line. If I’d taken the later train or decided to wait until the proper time I’d been given, I wouldn’t have crossed the line until probably well after 10am, meaning I’d probably have missed half the cut-offs. Apparently they were releasing waves of X thousand cyclists at once and this took more time to organise than expected. Anyways, being in the queue with thousands of other cyclists was fun, it was a nice morning, a great atmosphere and there was some most amusing banter heard from behind as a bunch of Essex Boys from the Hornchurch Cycling Club waited to set off. What I also found interesting was that most of the bikers seemed quite serious cyclists, including one guy who said he’d run a 2:38hr marathon and he did look remarkably fit. To add to the scene a couple were having their engagement photos taken by the Thames, funny thing to do on a Sunday at 8am, but there you go.
The Event Starts
So I eventually crossed the Start Line around 8:45am – it wasn’t much of a start line to be honest, you were cycling along one minute, passed a load of portable toilets by the Thames and the next minute you’d passed the start line 😀 Anyways with the 11am cut-off time in mind, I sped as quickly as I could towards “Woodford Green” to cover the first 18miles! I seemed to be pushed along by the crowd and other riders somewhat, trying to keep the pace up as best I could. Let me say I was feeling noticably fatigued/tired and was very concerned that later in the race I’d have to give up, as it felt doubtful my legs would be able to keep going at such a speed for 8 full hours. My whole aim and motivation at this point was to make it to the checkpoint 2 hours ahead of the cut-off time. I figured if I had a 2 hour leeway gap at 18miles, I should just about be able to make the finish in time.
Anyway, somehow I made it to the 18 mile Woodford Green first stage checkpoint without stopping and was about an hour inside the cut-off time(on the day I actually convinced myself it was 2 hours inside the cut-off time). My whole strategy plan for the race was to stop for a rest every 20miles(as had done in training), but as nobody else stopped at 20 miles I decided to keep going to get to the first major stopping point at 25 miles – which was in Epping town – arriving at 10:50am. There was a great reception for us bike riders – hundreds of people out on the street and a real celebration atmosphere. Here I stopped for a much needed Starbucks tea! I had hoped a nice cup of tea would wake me up and it did a bit, but not as much as had hoped. Anyways I had no other choice than to keep going.
We proceeded through Epping Forest. When I say “we” I mean me and thousands of other bike riders, this was a huge event and seemed to have a lot more people than in 2018. Anyway Epping Forest was meant to be a highlight, but to be honest I found the place to be rather uninteresting. Yes there were nice trees on either side, which were pleasant enough, but there wasn’t anything else, no animals or buildings of interest(none that I could see anyway) and we were cycling along a plain straight road all the way through it. Surrey just seems a lot more leafy and varied, suppose it might also be the case that I’m more a fan of technical tracks and really not much of a speed rider, I simply prefer cycling along rocky hill paths or sandy lanes than in a straight-line on a road even if it is through a forest.
After Epping Forest the ride opened up onto farmland, sprawling fields and small hills. Now this was very pleasant to begin with, at least for the first hour of so. You were in the country, there was fresh air, no cars to be seen, it was nice and quiet, well, except for the thousands of other bikes on the road. The only thing is this scenary style(if you can call it that) went on and on and on, for a very long time, for miles and miles, again without much variation. Maybe it was my general wearyness making me tetchy, maybe it was the hot sun beating down on my face sans sunglasses(why did I not wear any?), but I grew a bit tired of it, I wanted to see some skyscrapers or an airport or something. As stated it was a hot sunny day and I didn’t have any sun-tan lotion on either, so that probably didn’t help either. Oh man, it sounds like I’m complaining awfully, but please put this mostly down to tiredness and being annoyed/anxious about the cut-off times.
Half Way Happiness
I got to the half-way 50mile point at 12:58pm and was very happy to have made it that far, but really I wanted to get to the 75mile point 🙂 Shortly after that and just before the Felsted School rest-point I stopped at the Palm Trees restaurant and bar – had a quick sandwich and a major drink of water. The Essex police were there checking the roads for any errant cars and I overheard them say that some people had complained that so many roads were closed – found this a bit amusing as allegedly the Ride-London-Surrey was moved to Essex because Surrey residents had moaned about how their village roads were closed for the staggering timespan of 4am – 7pm one Sunday per year.
Getting to the Felsted School pit-stop at 1:20pm (40mins within cut-off) was another enjoyable experience – except for the long path you had to follow to get into the bike park area, but no complaints as once again it was a fab atmosphere, surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists + we got free bananas and numerous free gels. I grabbed a load of them and all was good.
Should say shortly after the Felsted stop, I decided to start taking these gels and took them every few miles until the end of the ride! In a marathon I restrict myself quite strictly with gels, but today I was in no mood for such restraint, in fact prob took more gels than have ever taken in my life! I sudder to think what my blood glucose level must’ve been by the end or how many gels I actually took, especially the last 15 miles. I took them not only for my legs but to keep me awake too, so very healthy reasons.
Half an hour after leaving Felstead I sailed past Mile 60 at 2pm, then half an hour later passed through Writtle. Tried to look out for Writtle college, where my niece went to college, but had no real time to look around the place, there were 40 more miles to cycle.
Getting to the final rest-stop of Chipping Ongar High Street(Mile 73) just after 3pm, I stopped for a sit-down, another much enjoyed tea and finished the sandwiches I’d bought with me at the start(yes many people say 9 hour old ham sandwiches are unhealthy, but I disagree). This stop was in an Arts Centre grounds – they served hot food both outside and inside – there were rides for kids, a bar cooking burgers and again a real party atmosphere going on with lots of people enjoying themselves.
Getting Overtaken by Everyone
The theme of this ride seems to have been that everyone must overtake me. I got overtaken by literally everyone – like all shapes and sizes of cyclist, young and old, fit and unfit looking, those with far better bikes and those with far worse bikes, everyone. Found this even more confusing than in 2018 where something similar happened, lots of people who looked much less fit than myself overtook me with ease, except on the hills where I gave most of them a good beating. After that experience I asked some friends and was given a good answer – these rival cyclists were wearing cycling shoes – yes those shoes that clip on/off the bike pedals – apparently they can give 30% more power per cycle and I did remember seeing most riders wearing shoes, which would explain things. This time, however, was different! Many people that overtook were definitely not wearing cycle shoes – so I just had to try to accept they were either on drugs or perhaps I was just a plain slow cyclist these days. I even wondered if my bike hadn’t been oiled, but it had been.
Revenge on the overtakers!
Leaving the Ongar rest-stop, countryside still surrounded us, but during the final 2 hours of the ride, the scenary gradly became more built up as we approached back into London. As when we got within 20 miles of the finish, I also began to wake up! Maybe this was relief of getting to within a finishing distance, but for some reason it took me about 7 hours of nearly non-stop cycling and goodness knows how many calories burnt to kick my morning tiredness. This coincided with there being a few more hills than the previous 80 miles, which meant I began getting some revenge on those who had previously overtaken me, by overtaking them and over-taking those folks even slower than me – it really wasn’t much revenge really as many other folks still overtook me on the flat, but it felt like some justice was served at least.
Girl decides to fall off in front of me on the steepest hill
As mentioned this final 20 or 15 miles there was a notable increase in hills. Now, this ride is billed as not being very hilly and I’d have to agree with this – there are a few hills but not many, nothing like the Surrey version anyway. Ironically the biggest hill is at Mile 85 near Woodford! Now I quite enjoy going up steep hills and this one I attacked with a bit of relish, it was fairly steep but nothing overly difficult in my opinion, it was fairly long but I’d conquerred far worse. Anyway as I’m going up there were lots of signs saying “Keep right to over-take”, but due to slower riders getting in my way I was forced left just as I was over-taking a girl. Unfortunately she thought I was going to clip/crash into her and unfortunately she was indeed wearing those infamous cycle-shoes and couldn’t eject herself from them in time, so she fell over. Balancing on the pedals I asked if she was alright and she replied she was, thank goodness – bailing out at 85miles would suck and on I pedaled.
Personally I found the most difficult and annoying hills to be specifically approaching the Olympic Park. London Docklands and Wapping area which weren’t actual hills but annoyingly long and slow going road fly-overs. The one bonus was you got a fine clear view into London from these fly-overs and it was great to see Canary Wharf and other buildings.
Starting to Enjoy the Ride at Last
Following the final annoying fly-overs of the Lower Lea Crossing and the Docklands + having finally and fully woken up + being in the best mentally enhanced state all day thanks to all the gels taken, I started to finally enjoy the ride. Speed cycling through the mile long Limehouse Link tunnel and clocking up to 40kmh(25mph) was certainly a highlight, even overtook a speed biker there too!
The Finish Line
Eventually we got to within sight of the Thames and following the A1203 meant we were nearing the end, a quick turn left and there was Tower Bridge! cycling over this iconic landmark to cheering crowds and seeing Bronwyn amongst them was great stuff. Once past the bridge though, there was a bit of confusion as to where the end actually was! much like the start line, there was no indication of where the finish line actually was – you kind of assumed you had passed it, before having to dismount, collect the well-earnt RideLondon-Essex medal and walk our bikes to a street exit. Despite all that was in a most happy mood, especialy as apparently 20 minutes later Tower Bridge was opening its gates for a ship and so they re-routed the finish line at 6pm to the other side of the river(you miss out on crossing Tower Bridge if that happens) – so was very glad to have made it to the official finish line in time, wherever it was 😀
Onwards to the Ironman
Following a Guinness and some food, I decided to be like normal people and just go home on the train, but…then I changed my mind and realised that it’s really not often I cycle 100miles and my ambition of completing an Ironman triathlon in a year would be significantly aided if I clock another 15miles today! So I cycled home via London(this involved a lot of map-checking and muttering to myself) and then around the block a few times – eventually clocking up about 119miles just to be sure 😀 Yes I was called various names for doing this and it took until 10pm but whilst you may laugh I only have to swim 2.4miles and run another marathon to complete an Ironman!
Lessons Learnt & Things To Consider
So there you go 100 miles ridden and probably gained more cardio fitness in 9 hours than in the past year, but what tips would I have for next time? Well, to start with, definitely do a bit more training, go to bed earlier and perhaps don’t move house the day before 🙂
As mentioned above and similar to my experience in the RideLondon-Surrey 2018 – what I found most confusing was that everyone, like the entire world, all levels of athleticism and non-athleticism overtook me – at least until the final 20 miles or so when I managed to overtake a few people and that was generally only on the hills – when they were tired and I had woken up. After some research it looks like the answer is quite simple – rather than relying on past athletic ability, James must actually go out and do some 2 hour practice bike rides and do these rides each weekend for several months. This makes obvious sense really, it’s the same with almost anything else, from playing tennis to playing the piano – do either of those for 2 hours a week for 6 months and you’re guaranteed to seriously improve, even if you don’t think you have. Allegedly there are no real short cuts with cycling(as I was hoping) but doing those 2 hour rides will increase your speed, sometimes impercetably and it’s almost certainly what most of those regular folks who overtook me had been doing. I suppose that’s what most normal people would do when preparing for a 100mile bike ride, give themselves 6 months to prepare, rather than relying solely on 3 practice rides to be enough 😀
Related to the above, most of the way it felt quite imperitive to reach the 70mile marker, so perhaps a couple more long bike rides of 70+ miles would’ve really helped give confidence in this area too.
The other major potential improvement, should I venture to do anything like this again, would be to change my actual bike. The bike is a Bianchi Via Nirone 7 – which was gifted to me by my niece’s husband for the 2018 ride(he didn’t ever use it). This has been a fantastic bike, I’ve now done two century Ironman rides using it, as well as numerous other long-distance trips and it’s saved my bacon getting to Wimbledon train station on time and elsewhere on many occasions. The only problem is that it’s officially a bit too small for me, everyone who knows much about bikes comments on this. It’s a 55cm frame when ideally my bike size should be larger at around 60cm. It strikes me that if I were to dedicate myself to those regular 2 hour weekend bike rides, investing in the correct frame-sized bike would be a sensible and beneficial idea – another obvious one, I guess.
|Finish (Total time)||07:37:40 (13.14mph / 21.02kmh on average)|
|Timing Point (Miles)||Time||diff.|
|25: Arr. Epping||10:35am 01:50:51||01:50:51|
|26: Dep. Epping||11:05am 02:21:45||30:54|
|53: Arr. Felsted||1:20pm 04:35:50||02:14:05|
|54: Dep. Felsted||1:38pm 04:54:40||18:50|
|73: Arr. Ongar||3:05pm 06:19:09||01:24:29|
|74: Dep. Ongar||3:43pm 06:57:15||38:06|